Dear PARC Friends and Colleagues:
We all know that snakes are often feared and can be unpopular among the general public. We also know that they are important players in the ecosystems they inhabit.
However, convincing some people to set aside their fears in the name of science and conservation is not always easy. I know this firsthand from my work in Ohio, where public fears and safety concerns led to persecution of Lake Erie Watersnakes. Ultimately, populations of this species declined to the point of needing federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. I am proud to say that our “Respect the Snake” campaign helped the local community to do just that – to set aside their fears and learn ways to peacefully coexist with the snakes living in their backyards. When coupled with other recovery efforts, we achieved a conservation victory: Lake Erie Watersnake populations recovered and the species was delisted in 2011! Why? We helped the community recognize that knowledge based in science, rather than rumor, fear or misinformation, should drive management decisions.
Recently, a science-based plan to help boost Timber Rattlesnake populations, developed by biologists at the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in Massachusetts, had been in question due to public fears. While the plan garnered much support from conservation groups and members of the public, it also faced enough opposition by a few outspoken locals to convince state legislators to try and stop it. Allowing fear and misinformation to postpone science-based conservation creates a dangerous precedent that could impact the success for many other species conservation plans in the future.
Thankfully, state legislators did not advance measures that would have mandated a one-year moratorium on the Timber Rattlesnake plan. The Advocates for Snake Preservation (ASP) ran a positive campaign that included thanking legislators who were willing to #StandWithScience. Bolstered by ASP’s efforts, the legislators chose not to pursue the moratorium and to let science stand.
Although PARC is not an advocacy organization, in instances when science-based evidence or decisions are in question, a PARC position statement is appropriate. As the current Senior Co-chair of the PARC Joint National Steering Committee, I know that PARC believes that when we #StandWithScience, conservation wins. We’ve shown this to be true with Lake Erie Watersnakes and it has been shown again with Timber Rattlesnakes. The Massachusetts plan to introduce Timber Rattlesnakes is based in science. PARC supports the goals of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in this Timber Rattlesnake conservation effort.
If you, too, want to show how you #StandWithScience, and thank those who did the same, please check out the website developed by ASP (a group out of Arizona, so they know a thing or two about living with venomous snakes in their own backyards), and while you’re at it, thank ASP too!
We appreciate your continued support of science-based conservation through PARC.
Kristin Stanford, “The Island Snake Lady”
Lake Erie Watersnake Recovery Coordinator
Research Scientist and Education and Outreach Coordinator
The Ohio Sea Grant College Program
The Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory
PARC Joint National Steering Committee Sr. Co-chair